Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Second-guessing the films that the BBFC got the most complaints in 2017

This blog is rated 15 for references to child abuse and strong sex references.

The BBFC drop their Annual Reports around July every year, where they discuss all facets of their guidelines and the film classification process in the UK. I await these reports with the same eagerness I await the Oscars with, and I think it's fun to try and predict which titles cause the BBFC the most complaints every year!

Second-guessing which film ratings decisions were faced with most opprobrium in 2016 was quite easy (and I did well), because there were a handful of high-profile films which sat right at the border (10 Cloverfield Lane, Batman vs Superman, Sausage Party, Jason Bourne), Suicide Squad got a 15 despite getting PG-13 in America which was sure to disgruntle younger film fans and Deadpool confounded cinemagoers expectations of what they thought they were going to see in a comic book movie (also known as 'the Black Swan effect').

In 2017, however, all the Box Office heavy-hitters were rated as they should have been. The more contestable decisions came in films with more modest-sized audiences, thus, the BBFC can't have gotten more than half a dozen complaints about them.

To illustrate this point, the 12A-rated A Little Chaos contains 2 sex scenes that, by the BBFC's own admission, in a podcast I personally requested they made (they even call me by my name in the podcast!) are quite strong for 12A. But due to the low amount of viewers of that film, the BBFC got no complaints for its lenient rating.

By contrast, Mr. Turner, which contained just one contestable sex scene in a 12A-rated film, was an Oscar nominee and thus much more widely seen than A Little Chaos, causing Mr. Turner to be the most complained about title of 2014.

So, in trying to guess which films got the BBFC the most complaints, I have to balance the volume of people who saw it with the questionability of the decision. Due to that, there are only three films, released between January 2017 to December 2017 (the time period the report will be covering) which I can see standing out in terms of volume of complaints:

01. Logan (rated 15)

I think this film, which the MPAA's insight says contains 'strong brutal violence' should be an 18,  although other BBFC aficionados who have seen more violent 15s (e.g. Hacksaw Ridge) disagree. 

I didn't care enough about the decision to bother e-mailing the BBFC (like I have done with certain other incorrectly rated 15s), but what I will say is that Zack Snyder's Watchmen, a rare 18-rated comic book adaptation, was less violent than Logan (I remember this vividly because Watchmen was one of the first 18s I saw at the cinema). Logan had scenes where characters blades pierce other characters' skulls in combat scenes!

What's more, Watchmen's violent sequences were purely between adults. One of the principal characters in Logan, X-23 (played by Dafne Keen, above), Logan's daughter, has the same mutant claws as him and is involved in the action pretty early on. Later, they join other children with mutant powers, and they, too, are involved in a violent extravaganza towards the end.

These scenes are likely to make cinema-goers, particularly those with young children, uneasy. To quote The Simpsons, 'won't someone please think of the children?!'.

02. John Wick: Chapter 2 (rated 15)
Like Red Sparrow, the BBFC made cuts to this so it could get a 15, but cinema-goers were far from convinced, deeming the violence in it too gratuitous after a 15 post-cut (read my discussion of how the BBFC sometimes make cuts for the optics of doing something, rather than making an actual impact).

I foresee John Wick: Chapter 2 giving the BBFC complaints for four different reasons: 
1) the violence being too strong at 15
2) the cuts, made to a scene of suicide, apparently led the resulting scene to look artificial, with the cuts sticking out like a sore thumb (I haven't seen this film, but the same was true of Red Sparrow; they cut bloodspurts in a garrotting scene, yet in the next frame, JLaw is covered in blood. Where did the blood come from if there wasn't any from the garrotting, eh?!)
3) some film fans will complain that the film should have been released 18 uncut, and voice their displeasure that the BBFC gave a watered down version just because the studio wanted more people to see it.
4) The film's extended information is 'strong violence, gory images, suicide scene, language' which contains a rather telling plot point. 

After the debacle with the BBFC casually spoiling Ida and Two Days, One Night in 2014, they promised that they would refrain from displaying the black card before a film if it contained a spoiler.  But John Wick: Chapter 2's black card was still displayed, leading to some disgruntled film fans complaining about spoilers. (The BBFC need to be way more rigorous with implementing this policy; they also showed the black card before Funny Cow, which contained a similar spoiler)

03. Kingsman 2 - The Golden Circle (rated 15)

The first Kingsman film was the second most complained about film of 2015 after Spectre, but the BBFC specifically commented that Spectre had a huge viewership, so in terms of the viewers:complaints ratio, Kingsman topped the list.

The issues with the first film, which incidentally, riffed on the Bond movies as well as adding a sprinkling of My Fair Lady, as Taron Egerton's 'Eggsy' transforms from an aimless chav to urbane spy under Colin Firth's wary tutelage, were mainly the violence. A hyper-violent sequence set in a church chapel, was entirely filmed from the P.O.V. of Firth's character, contained shots to the head, stabbings, burnings, and a lot of blood.

The other cause of complaint was a crude verbal sex reference at the end (I believe the joke was a homage to The World is Not Enough's 'I thought Christmas only comes once a year' line in terms of cheesy-cool), but the Kingsman joke went down like a lead balloon, with several critics (including my personal messiah Mark Kermode) commenting that it was a blip on what was otherwise a well-directed and entertaining spy film.

Director Matthew Vaughn obviously took notice of these criticisms. Rather than dialling back on the puerile sexual content in Kingsman 2 - The Golden Circle, however, he actually went the other way, almost as a middle finger to the critics, as if to say 'oh, you thought the anal sex joke in the first film was crude? I'll show you crude'.

And so, the issue that I foresee Kingsman 2 - The Golden Circle getting the BBFC complaints is not so much the violence (there is another bloody fight scene in the sequel which has the same stylistic flourishes as in the first film, but by now the level of violence in the Kingsman movies should be what is referred to in BBFC parlance as a 'known quantity'), but the cringe-worthy and painfully contrived scene where Eggsy has to digitally penetrate Cara Delevingne's sister in order to insert a tracking device into her body.

I feel this will draw complaints because of the graphicness of it (the tracking device is shown via high-tech software to have entered her body, so you actually see computer-generated footage of the walls of Cara Delevingne's sister's vagina).

That was excessive, unnecessary, vulgar, and unlike the majority of dicey content the BBFC allow at 15, not even 'contextually justified', because if spies really needed to track someone, it would be much easier to insert it up her nose, or put something on the SIM card of her mobile phone, etc.

This scene was so blatantly engineered just so Matthew Vaughn could punish critics who voiced distaste at the joke at the end of the first one. The unjustified graphicness was not missed by the cast. In interviews, Taron Egerton seems almost apologetic for the scene, stressing that it wasn't even his hand doing the fingering, but Cara Delevingne's sister's husband's. 

Other films which may have garnered complaints:

- Ghost in the Shell (rated 12A)
This was rated PG-13 in the States but 15A in Ireland. When it comes to the most violent PG-13s, the BBFC and the IFCO tend to mirror each other and err on the side of caution by rating them 15 (e.g., A Quiet Place, Suicide Squad, most PG-13-rated horror movies). The fact that the BBFC went with 12A for this but the IFCO went with 15 suggests the violence in this film sat right at the border.

However, this film flopped at the Box Office, which will limit the total number of irate punters. In its first week of release, The Boss Baby out-performed it comfortably. Just desserts to Scarlett Johansson for stealing roles from Japanese actresses!

- Alien: Covenant (rated 15)
Another 15-rated film that may raise a few eyebrows due to its violence (and gore), particularly an extended body rip scene. But, the film was panned critically and underwhelmed at the Box Office, causing me to wonder if enough people saw it to complain.

- Ma Vie de Courgette (rated PG)

This Oscar-nominated French-Swiss animation, set in a care home, subtly hinted at the reasons why the various children had been put into care: including one girl who saw her father kill her mother before committing suicide, a boy who's parents were druggies and insinuation of one girl's father being a 'creep'.

These mature themes were deemed too grown-up by the MPAA and IFCO, who rated Ma Vie de Courgette PG-13 and 12A, respectively.

If I were to play devil's advocate to the BBFC, I would say that whilst the film touches upon some almost unbearable levels of pathos, the majority of the film conveys the protagonist's time at the care home and the friendships he builds, thus, ultimately having an inspiring message.

- It (rated 15)

Several Stephen King horror movies were rated 18 on initial release when the older, stricter guidelines were in place, but have been down-rated under the new guidelines (eg The Shining, Misery). It is another example of a film that would probably have had 18 under the old guidelines, but with things changing and cinema-goers being desensitised to violence, is fine at 15.

I have an It poster in my bedroom! I have these two posters to remind me of the two facets of my personality: fierce and strong, yet a total clown. Ahah.

What might have made a few viewers uneasy about It was 1) the main conceit, of a clown who lurks a town, eating kids, and 2) the unhealthy interest a father shows his daughter. The film hints that he basically fancies her, and sees her as fair game the second she gets her period. 😷 This plot point also occurred in Gerald's Game, another 2016 adaptation of a Stephen King novel, which was an 18 (but it was a lot stronger than It). If nothing else, this shows that Stephen King has certain bizarre fixations, eh? 

- Victoria and Abdul (originally rated PG, raised to 12 for DVD)

I'm not sure if the BBFC will actually bring this up in their Annual Report, because it'd entail them coming clean about an error of their own making. This film was originally rated PG for 'mild bad language, sex references, racist terms'. I presume someone e-mailed them that there was actually a partially uttered f-word in the film, something which isn't allowed in PGs.

As such, the film was hastily re-classified and now sits at 12 on DVD (DVD sleeve photographed above).

It'll be interesting to see if the BBFC acknowledge that the two people rating this didn't spot the obscured strong language, and consequently gave it the wrong rating, and issue a mea culpa in their Annual Report, or if they'll just sweep it under the carpet.

Other potential films causing complaints might be: Hacksaw Ridge (the strong bloody violence and gory injury detail was deemed by many to be too full-on for a 15, but then again, it is a war movie, so), Their Finest (this 12-rated film contained a sex scene with breast nudity, which, as Light Between Oceans attest to, is occasionally allowed, but the focus on the naked boobs in this was a little more sustained) and Wind River (the 15-rated film contained an unsavoury sexual assault, where there was a glimpse of the victim's bum, and the BBFC themselves said depictions of sexual violence at 15 should not contain nudity).

The BBFC Annual Report for 2017 won't be out until mid-July. Let me know if there are any films that got their sizeable volumes of complaints that I've missed!


For more BBFC nerdiness, click here!


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